‘Use it or lose it’: What’s the truth in dementia?

Research project: Cognitive reserve and dementia incidence

Lead Investigator: Dr Dorina Cadar

  • Institution: University College London
  • Grant type: PhD studentship
  • Duration: 36 months 
  • Amount: £71,720

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

Excellent research project which can be developed and further progressed providing information to help in the dementia fight.

Project summary

The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ has been around for many years. This team want to find out whether cognitive reserve, the protective capability of our brains, can protect against conditions like dementia. 

They want to understand if education, occupation and leisure activities, which are believed to contribute to cognitive reserve, might help protect our brains. 

The background

‘Cognitive reserve’ is the protective capability of our brains. Researchers believe this reserve builds up with knowledge and experiences people acquire during their lifetime. 

There is a theory that higher cognitive reserve may protect the brain from damage, helping people to remain lucid during old age. Education, complex working environments and mentally and physically stimulating activities are believed to help increase our cognitive reserve. 

What does this project involve?

The research team want to understand whether cognitive reserve can protect the brain against disorders like dementia. The team will also aim to find out whether education, occupations and a range of leisure activities can individually or collectively protect the brain.

The research team will use information gathered from five large research studies which have followed people over the age of 50 for many years to assess whether cognitive reserve might be protective against dementia. 

They will measure cognitive reserve by looking at participant’s education, occupation and engagement in a number of leisure activities throughout their lives. 

How will this project help people with dementia?

The ‘use it or lose it’ theory, based on cognitive reserve, has been speculated about for many years but we simply don’t know if it is true in relation to dementia.

It’s important we understand how whether cognitive reserve might be protective against conditions like dementia as it this information could be used to prevent people from developing dementia in the future.